The appraisal meeting: best practice

The core purpose of the appraisal meeting is to provide a focal point for performance and development issues. Preparation is the key to successful appraisal meetings, both on the part of the manager and the appraisee.

It’s therefore important to give plenty of notice of appraisal meetings. To avoid the tendency to concentrate on recent history, encourage managers and employees to keep notes throughout the year. Employees should also be asked to think about their strengths and areas for development and their plans for the year ahead. At least one hour should be set aside for the appraisal interview in a room with no interruptions and informal seating.

The appraiser should:

• use the year’s performance management activity to highlight where to praise the employee; decide which performance problems to mention (the two can be combined if an issue has been overcome); consider what forthcoming organisational changes will affect the individual’s role; and where opportunities for development might lie

• create the right atmosphere – you need a frank and friendly conversation for the meeting to be successful

• plan a structure for the meeting – aim to begin with a general overview and praise to help the employee feel relaxed before any issues are raised

• make sure any feedback given is factual – the appraisee should be able to see that you are giving a factual description rather than an emotional reaction

• make sure there is plenty of time for the appraisee to have their say – they must feel they are getting a fair hearing and that both of you agree a plan for the future; as with job interviews, use open-ended questions (see article 37)

• encourage the appraisee to analyse themselves and their performance

• not deliver any surprise feedback which detracts from the purpose of the meeting and creates a negative atmosphere

• end the meeting on a positive note, either by agreeing a plan or arranging a second meeting to agree a plan

• never cancel an appraisal at relatively short notice “because something more important has come up”.

Employees who are to be appraised can also prepare to get the most out of the meeting by:

• being as objective as possible when appraising their own performance and gathering evidence to support these assessments

• keeping a record of the things that went well and/or did not go so well throughout the year – it’s important to be honest

• personally reviewing progress towards objectives throughout the year

• knowing what points they want to discuss and the questions they want to ask

• thinking about the development and training needed and preparing to explain why this will benefit the employer

• asking what you need to do to help your team achieve its goals

• being positive and prepared to have a conversation with your manager – if appraisal meetings are held properly it’s your chance to have his or her uninterrupted attention about your future.

Appraisal skills

Listening

• listen for what is being said,but also what isn’t

• make eye contact,but don’t stare

• concentrate and don’t interrupt

• use body language to encourage the individual to talk.

Questioning

• let the appraisee do most of the talking

• use open questions–e.g.“what achievements have you had against your targets?” “what has gone particularly well?” “how did you use that skill?” “where might you use those skills in the future?” “what would you do differently if that situation arose again?” “how have you learnt from that experience?” “which of your targets was hardest to achieve and why was that?”

• use follow-up questions,picking up on key words to gain additional information – e.g. “if you had to pinpoint the difficulties in achieving that target, what would they be?” “if you had to describe your impact on the team during that situation, what would that be?”

• use reflective questions to obtain clarity–e.g.“can I just confirm that the skills you used were...?” “what was your key learning from that particular situation?”

• final questions give the individual the opportunity to raise any outstanding issues – e.g. “is there anything that we have not covered that you would like to talk about?”

Summarising

• ensure that the main points of the discussion are captured

• make sure the individual has understood what you have said

• prevent misunderstandings–e.g.“so,let’s just clarify we have agreed your personal targets are...”

• use a summary to present a focused and structured round-up of the conversation.

Getting feedback

• most constructive when given immediately, although this is not always possible

• praise should be open,honest and genuine

• ensure feedback–positive or constructive–is specific

• identified areas for development should be:

     • direct

     • focused on performance and not the individual 

     • evidence-based

     • open to explanation

     • open to finding a solution

• the appraiser should be supportive when giving feedback.

Dealing with difficult situations

disagreements: listen, resist the temptation to carry out a battle of words – there will be no winners – try to pinpoint the reason for the disagreement and negotiate a solution

hostility: usually a form of defence, so be positive, use evidence of behaviour rather than feelings, and be prepared to take a break if necessary

emotional: can sometimes clear the air,so be positive,turn the conversation around but be prepared to offer a break if necessary

silences: try not to make assumptions,resist the temptation to fill the silence, gently probe and ask more questions rather than giving opinions, ask the appraisee if they have more to say or if their silence means agreement, summarise the discussion and ask if the summary is fair

unrealistic expectations: explain why the expectations are unrealistic, offer suggestions for different development opportunities and try not to discourage, demotivate or make promises that cannot be fulfilled. Instead make sure the individual knows what has to be done for performance to improve.

Setting individual ‘SMART’ objectives

It is important to set realistic objectives at the performance review. One of the pitfalls for some organisations or managers is setting vague or difficult-to-achieve objectives. Many organisations use the ‘SMART’ guidelines for setting successful objectives for each member of staff:

S specific: the objective should be written in clear, unambiguous, and actionable terms – not in vague or generalised terms such as ‘improve customer service’

M measurable: there should be quantifiable parameters; to get the measures ask the question ‘how will I know this objective is done?’

A achievable:that it could realistically be performed by this particular person within the constraints of the job

R relevant (or realistic): the objective should be something the individual can have an impact upon as well as being important for the organisation – in other words, can the employee achieve the objective with the resources they have?

T time bound: it should be clear when the objective is to be completed – proper time limits should be set for review and achievement.